Kodie Bedford takes the ‘Mystery Road’ to success

15 May, 2019 by Don Groves

Kodie Bedford.

When Kodie Bedford sets out to create a project or is offered a writing gig, she looks for three elements: Strong female characters, a regional setting which harks back to her childhood in country WA, and a genre piece.

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So far everything the Indigenous writer has accomplished in her burgeoning career has ticked all three boxes, with credits on Grace Beside Me, Robbie Hood and Mystery Road as well as the horror short Scout, which marks her directing debut.

“I pinch myself every day as I get to tell stories; I am living the dream,” she tells IF. She turned to screenwriting after working as a cadet journalist for SBS before moving to the ABC as a researcher on documentary series Message Sticks.

A graduate of the University of Western Australia with a Bachelor of Communications and a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Technology, Sydney, she wanted to be a screenwriter since she was 15. Her inspiration was Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the first female superhero she had seen.

She credits producer Greer Simpkin and head writer Michaeley O’Brien for giving her a big break after hiring her as a note-taker in the writers’ room on the first series of Bunya Productions’ Mystery Road last year at the suggestion of Penny Smallacombe, Screen Australia’s head of Indigenous.

When one of the writers departed there was an opening which she gleefully accepted. “If it weren’t for Greer and Michaeley I think I would still be note-taking,” she says modestly.

Also she is grateful to Smallacombe’s department for funding her script Last Drink at Frida’s as part of the Pitch Short Blacks Initiative in 2017. Directed by her partner Bjorn Stewart, the drama centered on a lonely married jazz singer and a troubled Indigenous soldier who meet in an underground speakeasy in 1944.

She is now writing an episode of the second series of Mystery Road, collaborating with head writer Blake Ayshford, Steven McGregor, Timothy Lee and Danielle MacLean.

The synopsis reads cryptically: A mangrove swamp. An endless sky. A headless body. Detective Jay Swan takes on a grisly case in order to be closer to his family, but has he left it too late? Set in a small coastal community where the desert meets the ocean, secrets past and present run deep and dark.

“It’s about family and balancing work and family, with the addition of the mystery,” she says, noting she is especially enjoying writing for Tasma Walton as Mary Swan, the wife of Aaron Pedersen’s Jay Swan.

Simpkin tells IF: “I have really enjoyed working with Kodie in the writers room on both series of Mystery Road. She has had a big influence over the female characters, particularly the young female characters.

“In the second series she really came into her own, making sure the female characters were authentic and had agency. I am so proud to see Kodie blossom, writing and directing her short films and winning the Balnaves Fellowship. I can’t wait to see what she will do next.”

The idea for Scout, one of five horror shorts by emerging Indigenous filmmakers commissioned by the ABC and Screen Australia, was inspired by news stories about sex trafficking.

Katie Beckett, Shakira Clanton and Tamala Shelton play women who are kidnapped and turn the tables on their abusers in what she likens to a Kill Bill-style revenge thriller.

The villains are played by Nelson Baker, Nicholas Hope and Hugh Sheridan. She predicts Baker, who appeared in Bad Mothers and The Warriors, could be “the next Hugh Jackman.”

Initially unwilling to direct the film, she was persuaded by the producer, Noble Savage Pictures’ Majhid Heath, and Screen Australia. “It was the most challenging and fulfilling time of my life,” she says, acknowledging the guiding hand of DOP Laszlo Baranyai.

Laszlo Baranyai and Kodie Bedford on the set of ‘Scout’ (Photo credit: Meg White).

The anthology, which includes Stewart’s splatter zombie comedy Killer Native, will premiere at the Sydney Film Festival under the banner Dark Place and will screen on the ABC later this year.

This year she is participating in Australians in Film and Screen Australia’s Mentor LA program, mentored by writer/producer Yahlin Chang (The Handmaid’s Tale).

Chang is helping her shape the concept of Rough, a series which looks at working class women who work in a brothel, which she is developing with Noble Savage Pictures’ Hayley Johnson and Heath. Her aim, she says, is to realistically portray sex workers, neither glamourizing nor demonizing the profession.

Nick Verso is collaborating with Bedford and Craig Irwin on The Gathering, a six-part teenage drama adapted from Isobelle Carmody’s novel, which centres on a group of disillusioned teens who discover they have been chosen to battle a centuries-old evil simmering within their small town.

With writer/story producer Anthony Mullins (The Strange Calls) and Mad Dan Productions’ Daniel Mulvihill and Madeleine Dyer she is working on Blood Sisters, an adventure/drama series which follows three teenage girls on the run, bonded by death and united by truth.

Thanks to Belvoir Theatre’s Balnaves Foundation Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Fellowship she spends two days each week at the theatre crafting her play Cursed!, which was inspired by the gathering of her family in Geraldton a couple of years ago when her grandmother was dying. Belvoir’s head of new work Louise Gough is helping her shape the play, which she describes as a black comedy about death.

As a founder member of the Australian Writers’ Guild’s Diversity and Inclusion Action Committee with Niki Aken, Jaime Browne, Mithila Gupta, Benjamin Law and Que Minh Luu, she is pleased with the greater diversity on and off screen.

“When I started I was the only Indigenous person in the writers room,” she says. “Now there are two or more.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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